Beauty, Race, and Politics on the Pageant Circuit

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Beauty, Race, and Politics on the Pageant Circuit

Recent Asian winners of international beauty contests have faced criticism, racist remarks.

Beauty queens Megan Young of the Philippines and Moe Set Wine of Myanmar soon found themselves facing issues of race and racism after winning the Miss World and Miss Myanmar competitions, respectively. 

Moe Set Wine will represent Myanmar at the Miss Universe pageant after she was crowned Miss Myanmar early this month. It will be the first time in 52 years that Myanmar is sending a contestant to the annual event, which is seen by some as yet more proof of reform and transition in the country. In fact, observers noted that some performances in the program made reference to Myanmar’s internal conflict. 

But less than a week after her victory, the 25-year-old beauty queen quickly drew controversy after reports surfaced that she is Chinese and not Burmese. She allegedly joined the Miss Chinese International contest in 2009 under the name Yang Xinrong. Further, she shocked many people when she attended a football event and was greeted by Nay Shwe Thway Aung, the grandson of the country’s former dictator Than Shwe.

After reading these reports, some Burmese netizens wanted Moe Set Wine to give up her crown. An online beauty pageant was even held to search for a new representative to the Miss Universe event. But the organizers of the Miss Myanmar contest insisted that Moe Set Wine is a Burmese citizen who has won the right to represent Myanmar in the Miss Universe competition. 

In an interview after her win, Moe Set Wine emphasized that “beauty alone is not enough to become Miss Universe.” Indeed, her toughest challenge today is not to prove her beauty and intelligence but to convince her fellow Burmese that she is a genuine citizen of Myanmar.

Fortunately for Megan Young of the Philippines, no Filipinos questioned her citizenship when she bagged this year’s Miss World title in Indonesia. But curiously, some international reports highlighted the fact that she is half-American who was born and raised in the United States. There is also an unconfirmed appeal to credit Megan Young’s victory to both the Philippines and the United States.

But it was the Twitter rant of Singapore-based Devina DeDiva which grabbed global attention after she insulted Megan Young and Filipinos in general. 

“Miss Philippines is Miss World? What a joke! I did not know those maids have anything else in them,” wrote DeDiva who has since then deleted the racist Twitter post.

She added that Filipinos are poor, uneducated, and “smelly from cleaning toilets.” 

Not surprisingly, DeDiva instantly became reviled in the Philippines. One Filipino filed a criminal case against DeDiva in Singapore for her racist remarks. She was also fired from her job as an assistant teacher. DeDiva has reportedly apologized to Megan Young and Filipinos for her comments, but many Filipinos remain angry. 

Megan Young’s victory is special to Filipinos because it made the Philippines the third country in the world after Brazil and Venezuela to win all four major beauty pageants: Miss Universe, Miss International, Miss Earth and Miss World. But racism, courtesy of DeDiva, almost ruined the celebration in the islands – which partly explains the vitriolic response of many Filipinos to DeDiva’s insulting posts. 

Perhaps aside from promoting world peace and women’s empowerment, the Miss World winner can also advance the cause of racial harmony.